Costa Rica, by way of Canada, Cleveland, Miami… November/December 2014

I organized this trip so I could be in Costa Rica on December 7, to watch the National performance of the Nutcracker in the capital. My reason was that my daughter Eve, a Peace Corps volunteer there, had eight of her ballet students participating. These eight girls had never taken a ballet class until a year ago.

Eve and her husband Joe, live in a small village of 500 people in central Costa Rica in the mountains, teaching English, running a learning center and doing many projects in their community. Some of the young girls in town found out that Eve took ballet for 12 years of her life and asked her to teach them. Twice every week for a year or so, Eve teaches 20+ girls ballet for the first time in their lives. She collected used ballet shoes and clothes from her old school "Marin Ballet", other sources, and had Moms sew clothes to outfit the girls. Through an introduction by my good friends, Dan and Iris Winey, Eve met Allison Wanamaker in San Jose, Costa Rica who in turn sponsored Eve and her girls to see the Bolshoi Ballet on an HD screen in San Jose last spring, a rare opportunity for girls who seldom have the chance to travel to the capital. While there, they met the director of the Russian Ballet School and she invited Eve to have her girls audition for the national performance of the Nutcracker in December, and eight made the cut. So, these girls danced in front of 1000 people for two performances.

I flew in Saturday night from Miami to see the performance Sunday afternoon. These girls became stars on that stage in front of a packed house of one thousand people, sixty or so from their town. The girls were on stage twice and they were adorable, and talented, dancing their parts with focus and presence.

It was heart warming to watch. These girls will be forever impacted by what they learned and what they accomplished through learning as will their community.

One of the mom’s pulled me aside after the performance and told me in her broken English with tears rolling down her cheeks how much they loved Eve, how she was such a wonderful person and all that she meant to the girls and the community. It was a moment that I could feel deep into my soul.

Later, we made the harrowing drive up the mountain at night to the home of their host family, with Eve and two local women talking the entire time non-stop in Spanish in the back seat, and Joe and I talking the entire time non-stop about sports in the front seat, not in Spanish. I spent the next thirty-six hours laughing and eating with them, meal after meal of delicious home cooked food, sleeping in their daughter’s bedroom, and taking ice cold showers.

Eve, Joe, and I, then took off for the beach for a few days to relax and hang out together. We had two choices for the drive to Manuel Antonio. Main roads, 4 hours, or dirt road, 4 wheel drive only, 2 ½ hours. We took the latter. We loved it. At one point, we stopped to take one of the pictures where it was dry and arid, and literally five minutes later we had crossed the mountain to the Pacific side and it was wet like a rain forest. An hour later we drove through a river to reconnect to the road.  I hope the pictures capture a fraction of the beauty and the fun we had driving down the mountain, literally.

We spent the next four nights at Arenas del Mar Resort, at the beach on the Pacific. The hotel was beautiful, breakfast and dinner looking over the beach, our rooms below, a fifty-foot walk to the beach. Eve asked on the way there what we were going to do. Joe and I looked at her with a puzzled look. That moment defined what we did, which was nothing constructive for four days, other than talk, walk, exercise some, play cards, eat, drink slightly more each day, and laugh all the time. Each night before dinner, we played a card game Joe discovered called 99, the perfect game for three people. We hung out on the beach all day long, every day, getting up for our meals and walks, or to swim in the ocean. Books were read, important matters discussed a little, not important ones a lot and mostly we just relaxed in each other’s company. To use Eve’s words in a sweet thank you note to me, it was Simply Perfect.

My trip to Costa Rica was orchestrated so I could be out of my house during the last two weeks of an eight-month remodel. It went like this:

The day before Thanksgiving, my friend Ashok, owner of Avatar’s restaurant in Sausalito, opened his doors to the public for free meals, as he does every year; his way of giving back to his community. This year he served nearly 1000 meals of pumpkin or turkey enchiladas. I seated and waited on people for five hours having the honor of sharing these duties with a young lady, Emily, a 10 year old who stole the show, several hearts, and reminded me of the joy of the company of a free spirited youngster.   

For all practical purposes, that was my Thanksgiving this year. With my kids scattered to the wind, I took off for Vancouver Thursday morning to spend a day and a half wandering around before boarding the Canada Rail train to Toronto. I was greeted by perfect walking weather in Vancouver. With a list of art galleries to see and restaurants to try, I had a wonderful time.

I came to Vancouver in 1984, 30 years ago. I spent one evening at The Granville Island Hotel and the next day went on a sailing cruise for five days. Late that night after dinner I walked the streets near the hotel. It was mostly an undeveloped, industrial place. That has changed completely today as it is now a thriving marketplace full of small and interesting creative businesses, art galleries, theaters, schools and more. Being there this time felt like a bookend to that trip and in some way to a period in my life. This feeling stayed with me for the next two weeks.

I boarded the train Friday evening. When I awoke the next morning I found we had not progressed far, as there were mudslides ahead, which caused a logjam of freight trains. But, it was beautiful, somewhat like driving through the Sierra Nevada mountains but more intense. Snow on the ground, we cruised along the Fraser River, where salmon run. The train was built in the 1950’s and is constantly updated. It was timeless, the train, the scenery, the slow movement.

A train ride slows life down, a slow train even more so. At one point it was minus 35 degrees outside. Which reminded me that in a week, I would be in Costa Rica.

Thirty-six hours in, we were fifteen hours behind schedule. As a result, we travelled through the Fraser River Valley during daylight, a beautiful experience most people never get to see. What is usually the highlight of this trip, a few hours through the Rockies, then became a night leg, meaning we would not see them. We were then again delayed in the town of Jaspar, and woke up to the last section of the Rockies, getting the most possible beauty for this journey.

My plan to get off the train in Toronto on Tuesday, have a few free hours there to go to an art museum, then catch a plane to Cleveland were scuttled by the new unknown schedule. When I went to bed on Sunday night, I thought I would be up at 8AM getting off the train in Winnipeg to catch a flight to either Toronto or Cleveland. But, at 8AM we were still at least 6 hours from Winnipeg, so I had another beautiful day on the train, sitting and watching the landscape, reading a book with my music. Later that day, I got off in Winnipeg, went to the airport, got on a 5:30 PM flight, which had a de-icing problem in the -20 degree weather, and my flight was delayed until 9:30, resulting in six hours in the airport. Things moved slowly for me in Canada.

What do the AGO museum in Toronto and Lebron James have to do with one another? I spent the morning touring the AGO and the evening sitting courtside in Cleveland watching Lebron. The texture and subtleness of the art was as beautiful as the movement of these huge athletes up close. Examples below.

One of the privileges in my life is to serve on the Kent State University Board of Trustees. It is a great honor and learning experience for me while I get to bring a west coast/technology industry perspective to a Midwestern public University Board. I spent one full day doing this as I do four times per year. The next day was a company Board meeting in Cleveland. Then, on to Miami.

Thanks to my friend John Friedman, I have developed an interest in collecting art. After reading Tom Wolfe’s book, Back to Blood last year, I was quite curious about the Art Basel show in Miami in December and so, with its proximity to Costa Rica, this was the perfect thing to do. Miami is home to the shortest skirts, highest heels, and for this week, most amazing display of art imaginable. Knowing a few people in this world, and with John’s guidance, I was fully fascinated and only slightly overwhelmed. My favorite booth was this one with the 1000 teardrops, and a few pieces of art of note that stopped me in my tracks.

From here, as said above, it was on to Costa Rica. As I conclude this log of my trip, in another airport, part way home, I reflect on the diverse nature of this trip, my desire to bookend a time in my life, reflect and sort some things out. From relaxing and contemplating in -30 to +80 weather, train to beach, art to basketball, and industry to friends, and family, I am struck by one thing said by the owner of the resort in Costa Rica. He said to Eve and Joe, “I am so impressed that the two of you would stop your lives in your 20’s to go off and do something that benefits others more than yourselves”. Yeah…me too!

Comment Stream

3 years ago

What a wonderful collection of not only your travels, but also the thoughtful reflections they triggered. Thanks for sharing in such a deep & transparent fashion.